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First Views of Europe
“First Views of Europe” is a chapter of the book Arabic Thought in Liberal Age 1798-1939 by Albert Hourani. In the work, the author discusses the European influence on the Ottoman Empire. In addition, he addressed the ways the reformation process as well as the development of liberal thought in the state and its provinces, such as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Tunis, were affected.

The Regression of the Ottoman Empire

Hourani’s narrative begins with the description of the state political affairs. He details the challenges with which the Ottoman Empire had to struggle, underscoring the fact that the line of sultans was no longer efficient as the central authority element from the end of the 16th century. It created disruptive tendencies in the society and the military (Hourani, 1962, p. 34). Furthermore, Hourani (1962) considers the threats to the Sublime Porta that derived from the movements on the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire, which intended to reformate Islam (p. 37). The causes for the unrest, which he briefly mentions, foreshadow the subjection to European influence. Similarly, the beginning of the chapter serves as a groundwork for the author to continue to the discussion of Europe’s involvement.

The Surge of European Influence

Hourani explains how the inability to adopt the achievements of European progress led to the fact that Turkey eventually lost its chance not only to dominate over its neighbors in Europe but also control its provinces. He states that there was significantly more willingness to use the European practices and admiration for non-Islamic culture during the time of great sultans such as Mehmed the Conqueror (Hourani, 1962, p. 41). For nearly two centuries after that, the empire struggled to respond to the scientific progress in Western Europe and the rise of new empires. Apart from the overall tendencies that Hourani (1962) describes, his narrative includes the examples of prominent Europeans, who lived and contributed to the changes in the empire, as well as Turks, who learned from their travels to Europe (p. 44).

The Reformation Process

Subsequently, Hourani examines the process of reformation that took place in the 19th century. After Greece had gained independence, it became apparent even for moderate conservatives in Istanbul that the empire needed changes, and Sultan Mahmud II started the process of reformation by disbanding the Janissaries first (Hourani, 1962, p. 45). However, the author mentions how the intended transformation of the government structures was, in fact, not advisable for maintaining the stability of the Ottoman Empire in the short term (Hourani, 1962, p. 49). For the vast and heterogeneous population of the empire, the liberalization of the state would mean risks of revolts and civil unrest.

The Development in Provinces

Hourani (1962) addresses the success of such changes in the autonomous provinces of the empire, where rulers could implement new practices more efficiently (p. 49). The author describes Egypt, where, by learning from Europeans, Muhammad Ali was free to strengthen his military and, as a result, economy and infrastructure (Hourani, 1962, p. 53). Hourani (1962) also remarks that new groups of scholars and thinkers arose in Lebanon and Syria largely due to the connection of Eastern Christianity and Catholic Rome (p. 57). Lastly, he emphasizes Tunis as the province of the Ottoman Empire where new political consciousness emerged unlike in the other regions. The process of governmental reforms resulted in creating a constitution that was the first among the Muslim countries but did not last long (Hourani, 1962, p. 65).


The chronicle of European impact on the Ottoman Empire and its provinces, which Hourani formulates in this chapter, serves as a basis for further examination of later periods of Arabic political thought development. The verdict on author’s claims is that Europe had much more influence on the provinces rather than the core region and was the source of the forthcoming changes in the Muslim world.


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